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A compression fracture is a type of fracture or break in your vertebrae. The vertebrae are the bones in your back that are stacked on top of each other to make your spine. Your spine supports your weight, allows you to move, and protects your spinal cord and the nerves that go from it to the rest of your body.
Compression fractures can cause the vertebrae to collapse, making them shorter in height. This collapse can also cause pieces of bone to press on the spinal cord and nerves, decreasing the amount of blood and oxygen that gets to the spinal cord.
Osteoporosis is the most common cause of compression fractures. Osteoporosis is a type of bone loss that causes bones to break easily.
Other causes include injuries to the spine (such as from car accidents and sports injuries) and cancer tumors in the spine (the cancer may start in the vertebrae, but, more commonly, it spreads there from another part of the body to the bone).
Osteoporosis is the most common cause of compression fractures. Preventing and treating osteoporosis is the best way to decrease your risk for compression fractures. Most compression fractures linked to osteoporosis are found in women, especially after menopause, but older men develop osteoporosis and compression fractures, too.
People who have had one compression fracture related to osteoporosis are at a higher than average risk for having another one.
When compression fractures first start developing, they may not cause symptoms. A doctor may discover them on an X-ray that you had done for other reasons. Later symptoms may include:
If the fracture happens rapidly, you may feel sudden, severe, disabling back pain.
Your doctor may will talk to you about your medical history and recent injuries and do a physical exam. He or she will check to see where you have pain and whether your upper spine is hunched forward. The doctor may also want to get pictures of your spine using X-rays, CT, or MRI scans.
If your doctor suspects osteoporosis, you may need a special type of X-ray called a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) or bone density scan. These tests show if osteoporosis is the cause of the fracture.
If your compression fractures are related to osteoporosis, your doctor will want to treat the osteoporosis. You may need to take bone-strengthening medicine and calcium and vitamin D supplements. Physical therapy and exercises may be recommended too. These things help make your bones stronger and can help prevent other fractures.
Other types of treatment include:
Different types of surgery are available and may be needed if other treatments aren't helping:
If cancer is causing your symptoms, you may need radiation therapy as well as surgery to remove some of the bone and treat the tumor. If an injury has caused the fracture, you may need surgery to repair the bone and join vertebrae together, a procedure called fusion.
Complications of compression fractures include:
Preventing osteoporosis, or treating it if you have it, is the best way to help prevent compression fractures. Talk to your doctor about a bone density test to see if you are at risk for osteoporosis and then find out what you can do about it. To reduce your risk of osteoporosis and certain types of cancer, don’t smoke and limit alcohol use. Weight bearing exercises to strengthen your bones and being careful to reduce your risk of falling are important too.
Compression fractures caused by osteoporosis usually become less painful with medicines and rest. They usually heal within 3 months, but some can cause long-term problems. Medicines to treat osteoporosis can help prevent fractures in the future, but does not help heal an existing fracture. If you have osteoporosis, it’s best to treat it before you develop any compression fractures.
In most cases, compression fractures caused by injuries heal in about 8 weeks, but it can take longer if surgery is needed.
Compression fractures caused by cancer have varying outcomes depending on the type of cancer and how well it responds to treatment.
Call your healthcare provider if:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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